Review of “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”

As the title declares, this movie has two enormously famous superheroes, and we’re led to believe Justice will Dawn as a result of them facing off. But with a mouthful of a title, we have a little trouble figuring out exactly what kind of movie Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is trying to be. On the surface, it’s a long one. From what I could tell, Zack Snyder wanted to fit both a Batman movie and a Superman movie into its two and a half hour runtime. Those two unraveling entities finally meet up at the end for a bombastic finale that actually gets tacked on after the fight that the title promises. Individual parts of the movie aren’t bad, but the execution of putting them together leaves much to be desired, and we come out with a movie that is, in a word, a mess.

This movie has the monumental challenge of introducing Ben Affleck’s iteration of the character to audiences while maintaining the journey of Superman’s character following his debut in Man of Steel. Unfortunately this means Henry Cavill takes a backseat to Ben Affleck, making it “The Batman Show Featuring Superman (With Special Guest Wonder Woman and Band-Leader Lex Luthor)!”

To answer the question on everyone’s mind: Batfleck isn’t terrible. In fact, he’s pretty awesome. We have to sit through yet another slow-motion recreation of the double-murder that drove Bruce Wayne to seek justice, but once we actually see that chin chiseled by the gods themselves, we find him to be a fitting Dark Knight. Batman’s plot is a detective story, and not a bad one either. Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is singular in his grizzled veteran of Frank Miller lore. His banter with his butler, Alfred (an impeccable Jeremy Irons), is earned from years of partnership, even though it would have been nice to see Irons do more than defiantly disagree with Bruce only to then completely aid him. The action is fantastic. Zack Snyder, if anything, can choreograph a battle scene with passion and technical expertise. He brings us a Batman who throws batarangs and punches thugs through walls. Again, this is Miller’s Batman skewed even darker, so don’t be too shocked when he brings some hammers down pretty hard.

Snyder wants the Batman detective story, but he also wants the political commentary on Superman’s existence and his struggle with that criticism. This is where the movie fails. On the other side of the Versus, Superman has barely any room to stretch. Rather than develop the world’s love of him, the plot almost immediately frames him for a crime he didn’t commit, and he spends most of his time grappling over his undecided role in the world. A journey I thought he had already taken in Man of Steel. It’s Lois Lane who actually goes out to investigate the framing. Amy Adams does a fine job, but once she inevitably gets into trouble for searching too far, her agency vanishes, and she needs Superman to save her. Time and time again.

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People will be divided on Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, but I personally loved him. The twitchy genius who inherited his family’s billions embodies “knowledge is power” but grows unhinged in the face of Superman’s true power. We get to see how “criminal” gets paired with “mastermind,” and he adds a little bit of much-needed fun to the movie with his maniacal exuberance, as does Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, who finally gets to play the tough-as-nails chief editor of the Daily Planet.

Then there’s Wonder Woman. Introduced as the enigmatic Diana Prince, Gal Gadot does a wonderful job being enigmatic and sinewy, and when it comes time to strap on the Amazonian armor and leap into battle, she also holds her own. But we learn next to nothing about the character, which feels less like a cliffhanger for sequels and more like there wasn’t enough room to justify her existence. She’s a teaser for future Justice League movies, but that means she isn’t a full character. There isn’t even enough here to analyze how this Wonder Woman stands out from her comic book counterpart. She’s just in the movie.

Once the two “heroes” meet, there isn’t a lot of substance beyond the conflict. Snyder channels all the backlash to Man of Steel’s collateral damage into Bruce Wayne’s motive to take down Superman, a smart move that convinces us the battle is necessary. Superman believes Batman’s methods are too brutal (they are), but it takes a strong-arming nudge from the plot to get him into the fight. After all the marketing and buildup, the titular battle itself is exciting, but it’s also short. The moment that brings them together is a touching one (if you’re a romantic dope like me), but whatever connection their characters have moving forward has yet to be determined; I’m sure it will be mishandled in sequels to come. Rather than a clash of ideologies, I saw their fight as a studio’s marketing decision to appeal to our childlike delight in seeing two franchise titans glare at each other in a three-hour movie based on six pages from The Dark Knight Returns.

This review has been a hodgepodge of analysis, but that reflects the movie itself: a quilt rapidly sewn together to catch up to Marvel’s eight years of universe building. The seams show. The actors do the best they can with the parts the script allowed them to have, but ultimately it’s a packed room that tries very hard to justify making a dozen more movies that let these characters run amok. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is not all bad. Snyder does a decent job introducing a new Batman that would’ve worked better in his own movie, but he does another consistently bad job of telling Superman’s story and a worse job bringing Wonder Woman into the mix. We should all be nervous about the future of our heroes when the world gets grimmer in their presence. If Snyder’s Superman is about inspiring hope, then why do I feel none while watching his movie?

Spinoza and The Lego Movie

The 2014 kid-friendly film, The Lego Movie, purports important and sophisticated themes that can be linked to Baruch Spinoza’s philosophy of necessary existence and monistic ontology as stated in his book Ethics: Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect. Emmet, a Lego construction worker and main character, begins the film in the city of Brickburg where President Business lords over everything keeping the world in a state of strict perfection. Emmet happily joins in the dystopian anthem that every citizen sings in unison: “Everything is Awesome.” This establishes the populace’s active part in maintaining its own imprisonment. The song expresses a love of how the order of life is set and no desire to change it. This opening reflects Foucault’s concept of docile bodies, but as the film progresses and the citizens free themselves, the film’s message becomes more similar to Spinoza’s ethics.

President Business’ plan involves using Krazy Glue to stick together all the Lego bricks in the world to keep it in stasis and preserve the perfection he has crafted. The heroes thwart the villain by convincing him that the world is full of people who take the bricks and build something new and unique because each person has a different perspective and that makes them all uniquely special. There is no “chosen one” who is destined to save the world; we are all in charge of this world because of our power over it. At the same time the Lego characters come to this conclusion, the audience is shown that the entire movie is part of a ten-year-old boy’s game with his father’s Lego toys in the real life. His father confronts him, and it’s revealed that President Business is a dream version of the tyrannical father who demands stasis and perfection. The son convinces his dad the same way that Emmet convinces the villain that Legos are meant to exercise imagination, and the freedom to break and rebuild them is essential for that.

Putting this lesson next to Spinoza’s hierarchy of being, we could see the Lego bricks as substance and the constructions of bricks as modes. These modes are temporary and will inevitably break down due to eternal changeability of substance. Even the people are modes, as they are also built from the bricks that make up buildings and all other objects in their universe. Attributes would be the details that set certain modes apart such as what kind of building or person the Legos create and how long it will last before becoming part of another mode. The young boy is a godlike figure who builds modes from this substance and guides the events of the miniature universe. The Lego characters still have agency despite his presence and all act without being aware of his hand influencing the direction of existence. The father/President Business wants to stop that natural chaos and hold substance in place with Krazy Glue, which would curtail the agency of all those people who take part in the changing modes. Spinoza writes in Ethics that people must be active in their existence, as all actions occur out of necessity. The song “Everything is Awesome” returns at the end, when the characters rejoice in the infinite possibly of creation that the world of Legos permits. The lyrics do not change: there is still a love of how the order of life is set and no desire to change it. With the complete lesson of the movie in mind, the dystopian anthem that was originally sung to enforce static perfection becomes a celebration of the naturally perfect order of a dynamic existence. Everything happens out of necessity and therefore need not be changed. That’s why it’s already awesome, and we should revel in that.

Spinoza says that substance is eternal and cannot be destroyed; it is the modes that exist momentarily before being broken down, and their substance repurposed into future modes, continuing the cycle of existence. This is done, Spinoza believes, through the power of nature, which is equivalent to God. The boy can be said to be God in this comparison, as it is his will that drives the building of modes, and it provides a more tangible subject for the analogy, but a more appropriate way to fit The Lego Movie into Spinoza’s model would be to place Lego bricks themselves as God/Nature because they are the substance that makes up the universe, and it is the universe that makes up God. The collectivist message of the movie, advocates not only a social policy of freedom of imagination, but also an ontological one. The bricks make up the people, so it is the bricks (and therefore God) that are free to form whatever modes they want.

And they are free; the very ideology the boy was following was to allow the characters to do whatever they wanted as the game plays itself. The boy drives it on our side of the meta-narrative, but the characters make their own choices within the story, and the Legos literally build themselves, personifying Spinoza’s dynamic universe. Substance is an ontological theory, but it becomes an ethical issue when one tries to stunt its ability to create modes and fulfill its dynamic nature. The Lego Movie is the perfect story to advocate the flourishing of such ability, and in a kids’ movie, no less. Spinoza would have appreciated the monistic approach to existence and the collectivist framework of freedom, especially when it also teaches kids how to fun with imagination. Everything – by necessity – is awesome.

Marvel and DC: The Endless Competition

Marvel and DC: The Endless Competition

I wrote this! It’s not very good, but I wrote it.

It is more of a observation of pop culture than a commentary on its cultural value, but I do believe this media war has cultural value. These names are dominating the hearts and minds, young to old, of millions all over the world, which means they are deciding the direction of our future. That’s a broad and presumptuous statement, of course, but the influence cannot be denied. Superheroes rule the world right now, and as we celebrate the golden age of their cinema, video games, television, and graphic literature, it’s exciting to know we will also bear witness to the world that will follow their reign. I can’t wait to see it.

Hope you enjoy!